NHF Finance Conference 2023
THFC was delighted to attend the 2023 National Housing Federation (NHF) Social Housing Finance Conference & Exhibition. The two-day event saw hundreds of people within the social housing sector gather in Liverpool to network, reflect on the issues of the day, and hear from some of the sector’s key leaders and stakeholders.
Day 1 was equally informative and engaging, with over two dozen sessions on pertinent topics including data, housing sustainability, the state of the economy, affordability, funding, and housing policy.
In the conference’s first plenary session, Anna Leach, Deputy Chief Economist from CBI, gave a sombre forecast. Although inflation is expected to fall during 2023, she explained, real incomes will also continue to fall, representing the greatest drop in real incomes since the 1950s. While discussing the future of the UK’s economic growth, she said: “There will likely be a balance between nurturing growth but not doing it in a way that challenges the sustainability of public finances.”
In one of the afternoon sessions, Ffiona Hesketh, Deputy Director of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, discussed the UK Government’s ambition to possess the cheapest energy in Europe by 2035. Later in the session, Nicholas Harris, Chief Executive at Stonewater, categorised housing associations’ critical objectives into three equally important, yet competing priorities: decarbonisation, development, and building safety.
Day 2 was just as insightful as Day 1. The numerous sessions of the day included presentations on the cost of living crisis, wealth inequality, women in finance, mergers, cybersecurity, credit quality, supply chain risk, and macroeconomics.
Delegates heard from Jonathan Walters, Deputy Chief Executive of the Regulator of Social Housing, during the first plenary session of the day. In his presentation, Jonathan characterised social housing as a sector that is commonly misunderstood, despite the wealth of positive impact it delivers to the country. As well as encouraging housing associations to better communicate their positive impact to external stakeholders, he also emphasized the need for better and more granular data amidst increasing demand for ESG information.
In a session about supporting social housing tenants through the cost of living crisis, Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, hammered to delegates the ultimate goal of social housing: “Our role as social landlords, first and foremost, is to provide affordable housing for those in need. We have a role in supporting people to live well and with dignity.”
In one of the final sessions of the conference, Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, gave a fascinating keynote address about the challenges and opportunities the sector faces in 2023. In his inspiring closing words, he reminded audience members of the power that housing associations have in providing a sense of hope to British communities across the UK.
Despite plenty of acknowledgement throughout the conference of the many headwinds facing the sector, there were positive takeaways, too. Across the board, Finance Directors and Chief Executives are showing a real sense of commitment and pragmatism regarding decarbonisation and net zero, with many beginning to factor the associated costs into their 2023 business plans.
Those at the conference noted a sense of mutual encouragement and collective commitment from housing associations of all sizes and from all areas of the country. While the sector faces many challenges, it is clear that housing associations are fully committed to supporting their tenants and upholding the core purpose of social housing.
Fenella Edge, Treasurer at THFC, said: “There were so many interesting and informative sessions, which helped confirm what we already knew from conversations we have been having with our borrowers. One takeaway was that the longer term effects of policies such as the rent cuts are now being felt, as the sector catches up with ‘reprofiled’ capital expenditure on existing stock. With issues like health and safety and decarbonisation increasingly brought to the forefront, the big question is where this leaves development of new affordable homes.”
Jack Bush, Treasury Analyst at THFC, said: “I was impressed by the camaraderie displayed by the sector at the conference. I was also impressed with the sessions, where I achieved great insight into the challenges facing HAs and their approach to solving them.”
Danielle Hughes, ESG Strategy and Communications Manager at THFC, said: “The NHF Social Housing Finance Conference provided the rare opportunity for hundreds of people within the sector to gather under one roof. In addition to tackling the many challenges the sector faces, the conference also enabled social housing colleagues from near and far to encourage one another in their shared quest to make life better for social housing tenants throughout the UK.”